Using All Our Senses To Heighten The Travel Experience
Traveling is a feast for the eyes, but do you ever feed your other senses?
No matter where you are in the world there is always an exciting vista to gaze upon, whether it be a riot of color in a souk in Morocco, the stunning vivid lime green of a rice paddy in Asia or the impossibly blue shade of a never-ending ocean in a Pacific paradise. We all gasp at breath taking scenery that leaves you in jaw dropping awe of what nature or man has created, in a visual sense. Sometimes you can picture yourself in a sensual Gauguin painting complete with a fragrant lei of frangipani or sitting amidst a field of bright sunflowers looking towards the sun in a Van Gogh masterpiece.
Not Just For 'Seeing' Sites
The saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is why so many travellers linger too long in one place, whether it be the beauty and grace of the local people, the unforgettable stunning scenery or the overwhelming size of intricately carved ancient temples that have stood for eons, you simply can't tear your eyes away let alone stop snapping photographs.
I grew up with a blind grandfather, having lost his sight in World War I. When I was really young, it was a scary venture to go to my grandparents' house, as he would greet each child by gently caressing your face to determine which grandchild it was. He was a big man with big hands as far as a small child was concerned. The inducement was a bottle of coca cola from my grandmother, once you crossed the threshold and the arrival ritual.
My grandfather was magnificent on the piano and always up for a game of hide'n'seek with his grandchildren any time. I was convinced that he could see, as he always found everyone in his garden that he knew intimately. It wasn't until I was older that I realized he was using his heightened senses of smell, sound and touch. We smelt of the ice cream that had dribbled down our chins, little feet would shuffle and rustle the dried leaves in the garden bed that he had planted. That was how he found us. He didn't need his eyes to see in "his" world.
Feeling Your Way
We are all a product of our up bringing and once I had children of my own, I wanted them to appreciate the fact that even if you cannot see, your other senses really do become heightened as I had learned. I used to play a game whilst walking along the beach where you had to shut your eyes and see how far you could walk without opening them. My kids quickly learnt that if the sand got hot, you had veered out of the gentle wash of the waves, or if the water began to splash around your calf muscle, you were heading for the depths.
The squealing sea gulls seemed louder, the wash of the lapping waves teased and tickled your toes and the salt air of the breeze brushed the hairs on your arms. Not being able to see, heightened every other sense and almost gave a clearer picture in your mind of where you were, without needing the pleasure of actually seeing what was in front of you.
Now whenever I am traveling I always take time out to sit somewhere that the scenery captures me and I shut my eyes. I take the time to explore the picture in my mind, but without my sight. A person can jump from one place to another in pursuit of chalking up the number of places they have been to in the world, but in their dash of places and cultures, do they really see what is in front of them? So many people are blind to the sensual pleasure of their other senses when they are in a foreign country.
A Sensory Experience
Sitting in San Marco piazza in Venice: the whimsical wafting tune of a violin, the fluttering of the pigeons' wings, the pungent rich coffee aroma, the ripe smell of parmesan cheese being grated over a garlic infused pasta dish, the smooth feel of polished cutlery, the uneven cobblestones beneath your feet, the taste of black cherries in a Sangiovese wine on your tongue.
Sitting in temple grounds in Thailand: of course the quiet rhythmic chanting of Buddhist monks, the rustle of their robes, barking temple dogs, the sickly sweet smell of burning incense, the coolness of the shade of trees in the tropic heat, the tinkle of hanging charms, as for taste it may only be the chewing gum in your mouth or the all pervading and cloying smell and taste of rotting garbage invading your nostrils and mouth.
Sitting in a souk in Morocco: hints of rose water, spices and unwashed humanity en masse, the call to worship by the muezzin, donkeys clip clopping on cobblestoned pathways, the rising warmth of hot mint tea wafting up your nose, the putrid smell of sulphur and salt at the tanneries, the swish of turban fabric being twirled around a head and the constant shuffling of feet with the ebb and flow of locals going about their business.
In Sri Lanka it is the cawing of huge black crows squabbling over ripe innards at the local fish markets, in France it is the church bells ringing out the hour or the jingling of a cow bell in the Pyrenees' mountainside, in Australia the smell of freshly rolled hay or the trill voices of a flock of parakeets, whilst in Indonesia it may be the stench of a body being cremated.
Wherever you are, the laughter, the musical intonations given to the local lingo, the harsh trill of someone yelling or the soft intonations of someone whispering in your ear are all the same.
You don't need "sight" to see or experience what country you are in. A sighted helping hand for those that are sight impaired is a bonus for the descriptive annotations, but for those of us with our sight, occasionally we should shut our eyes to really see where we are in the world.
So the next time you find yourself with a moment to spare somewhere in this incredible world of ours, close your eyes and let your other senses soar.
Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography
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